6 NATIONS

Well, it was a terrific weekend of 6 Nations rugby! Ireland put in a great 1st half performance against Wales, England overcame Scotland, and, in a scintillating game, Italy beat France.

 

It was one of Ireland’s best-ever performances. They completely stream-rolled over the Welsh, making the Grand Slam champions look like also-rans. The forwards led the charge, with the entire pack putting in a masterly performance.

 

Healy and Ross completely out-classed Jenkins and Jones (both of whom are double-Lions tourists). Jenkins, especially, is far from the player of 4 years ago, where he could have walked onto any international 15.

 

Best had a great game at hooker, capped by a magnificent block-down and retrieval which led to an Irish try. He seems to have put himself at the front for the Lions test team (the only blot on his performance been a, possibly undeserved, yellow card).

 

The locks both were superb, with nearly 40 tackles between them (which is a huge number for the second row). O’Mahony also had an impact, and Heaslip was effective as captain. The real star, though, was Sean O’Brien.

 

Rivalling O’Driscoll for man-of-the-match, he was a constant presence, dominating the field in terms of carries and tackles. He didn’t disgrace himself when taking over from the absent Best at the line-out, either!

 

The backs played their part as well. Murray dominated Phillips, and had a great game. Again his only blot was a yellow card. Silly of him, scrum-halves are too valuable to go to the bin.

 

Sexton, while not great, still was a presence. D’Arcy’s defence was vital, and Kearney did well at full-back. Though Halfpenny was equally as good, and, if anything, the Lions are going to have a very good full-back for the tour!

 

O’Driscoll was a stand-out, of course, winning the M.O.T.M. award, a constant presence on the field, masterly setting up Zebo’s try, and also getting one for himself. He’s said it’s probably his last year, but he’s not going out quietly!

 

The wingers were superb as well. Both Zebo and Gilroy were making their tournament debuts and they looked like old pros. Neither at all over-awed by the occasion.

 

Gilroy’s defence was great, especially, while Zebo was brilliant in attack. He scored a try, and put in a sublime touch as well which could have led to another score for himself, Cian Healy eventually scoring.

 

It was a terrific 1st 40 by Ireland, but it seemed to take too much out of the team. Trailing 30-3 at the break, Wales managed both to score 19 points in the 2nd half, and to leave Ireland scoreless in that half, to somewhat redeem themselves.

 

They had been pretty dire in the 1st-half, though. While Halfpenny was good, those around him seemed un-prepared for the game. Davies at 13, especially, was poor, a far cry from been one of the last year’s stars.

 

Both North and Cuthbert on the wings were outshone by their opposite number. Not great when you consider there size. North especially, who was taller than the whole Irish team. Roberts as well wasn’t at his best.

 

Biggar at out-half didn’t look up for the game. I was surprised he was picked, actually, as James Hook is a better player. Phillips had a poor game, another star brought down to earth (though it’s difficult to play behind a struggling pack).

 

The pack didn’t do to well, either. The props, as I’ve said were ineffective. Jenkins has suffered a terrible lapse in form. Apparently, he’s not getting game-time in France which is effecting his performances. Sexton should probably take note.

 

Warburton didn’t really feature all that much, and again went off injured (seems to happen in every game). There’s a lot of pressure on him, with many in Wales saying that Justin Tipuric should be on ahead of him.

 

All in all, it was another nail in the Champions’ coffins, with their 8th consecutive loss. They did very well to come back in the 2nd half, and almost every player improved. It wasn’t enough in the end though, unfortunately.

 

A terrific game all around. One of the best in a long time. Full of scintillating action, with Wale’s resurgence leading to a nail-biting/strenuous last 10 minutes ‘til Ireland finally kept them out.

 

(Btw, There was talk before this year’s tournament of introducing the bonus-point system in matches, ie an extra point for teams that scored 4 tries, and also a point for teams that finish the match within 7 points (converted try) of the winner.

 

As Wales were only 8 points down at the end (the match finished 30-22), it would have given them extra incentive to get those extra points. Also both teams scored 3 tries during the match and they would have tried hard for a 4th. Food for thought).

 

Italy shocked everyone by getting one over the French. The match seemed a foregone conclusion at the start (by me anyway), but turned into a terrific game, with Italy showing that they’re by no means also-rans in the tournament.

 

Italy were first to score and kept the pressure up, finishing the match 15-13 in front. The real triumph, though, came in the 2nd half, when they didn’t falter, even when France took the lead, and kept up their pressure.

 

Many times before, Italy have started strong but haven’t been able to sustain a lead for the crucial, last 20 minutes (much like Ireland against New Zealand). I really expected that France would pile on the points, while Italy tired. But it didn’t happen.

 

Italy kept up their performance and finished a great game, 23-18, for an emotional win. What made the win even more impressive was the fact that Italy finished the last 10 minutes of the game with a man down, having lost a player the sin-bin.

 

Italy have really thrown the tournament open, as France were one of the favourites to win it (which they could still do of course but it was a pretty embarrassing performance by them, one they’ll need to atone for) .

 

Whether it was French over-confidence or lethargy due to their punishing Top 14 schedule (the players had been playing for their clubs the week before. Again, Jonny Sexton take note), France just didn’t seem up to the game.  

 

England’s match against Scotland was the worst of the 3, but still provided a lot of excitement. England dominated for most of the game, though the Scots, like Wales, wouldn’t finish empty-handed.

 

Stuart Hogg had a great game at full-back, even scoring a try, and Laidlaw got some kicks. But Scotland’s defence was poor (they missed 19 tackles between them. They should have had Ryan or McCarthy, who both made that many tackles individually).

 

Owen Farrell had a great game, probably the best out-half of the weekend. Chris Robshaw was strong as captain (he’s put himself ahead in the running for the Lions, I think), and Billy Twelvetrees(!) had a great debut, scoring a try.

 

Scotland did well to come away with 18 points, but it wasn’t a great performance, overall, and they seem to continue their downward spiral. They have good players (Hogg, Visser, Beattie, Gray) but they’re not coming away with the victories.

 

The opening weekend was great, and this weekend could be equally as good, with 3 exciting matches to look forward to. Ireland face England, Italy take on the Scots, and France line out against Wales.

 

England v Ireland always has layers of intrigue, with the added bonus this year of looking like a possible tournament-decider, as both teams are still undefeated (Italy, realistically don’t have a great chance of winning the tournament).

 

Both Ireland and England put in big performances to win their matches, and also couldn’t completely overcome their opposition (Wales, especially, came pretty close to beating Ireland).

 

England will be buoyed by their win, though I think Ireland have a better team, generally, and have the home advantage. Ireland will also need to atone for their performance in last year’s fixture, which was terrible.

 

The game between Italy and Scotland has added intrigue as well. What looked like the Wooden Spoon decider, now looks like Italy’s chance to go 2-for-2 in the 6 Nations, and Scotland to avoid embarrassment.

 

Italy should be buoyed by their great victory (hopefully it didn’t take too much out of them) and really put it to the Scots. Scotland really need to pick themselves up, or they’ll be popping up this year’s table for the 2nd year running.

 

France v Wales is also an interesting battle. While both teams looked like possible contenders, they’re now seeking their first win of the tournament. While it was possible for Wales, nobody thought France would be at this stage.

 

Wales showed their mettle by coming back against Ireland, while France showed too much lethargy against Italy. Wales won the fixture last year and can win again if France don’t get their act together. Wales also won’t want to have lost 9 on the trot.

 

(Ireland host England this year, as they did 40 years ago, in 1973. That match almost never took place and became one of the most momentous occasions in rugby history, showing that rugby can break down all barriers.

 

The early 70’s were some of the worst periods of the ‘Troubles’, when terrorist activity was at its height, and dominated the news. It had adversely affected the 5 Nations in 1972, when both Scotland and Wales refused to send teams to Ireland.

 

Both countries had players that were serving in the British armed forces and had apparently suffered threats of some kind. Rugby fans feared that England’s RFU would copy their counterparts and not send a team in 1973.

 

It seemed likely that the fixture wouldn’t go ahead, when Willie John McBride intervened and got in touch with his old friend David Duckham. They’d both been Lions tourists in 1971 in New Zealand and remained friends.

 

McBride was able to convince Duckham that everything would be okay, and Duckham, been one of the senior members of the team, and the best player, was able to convince his teammates and management.

 

It became one of the great rugby weekends. English fans who came over for the match found they were unable to purchase a drink anywhere in Dublin. The Irish fans were so happy to see them that they paid for the drinks themselves!

 

The really memorable moment came at the start of the match itself, when England were applauded onto the pitch by a standing Irish crowd which remained cheering for several minutes. Not many standing ovations for England at Landsdowne!

 

While it’s irrelevant to the story, England were not a great team at the time, rugby-wise, and lost the match. This led to the English captain commenting that ‘We may not be much good, but at least we turn up!’ There was another standing ovation.

 

A great moment in rugby’s history, showing the games, almost unique ability (in sport Anyway) in breaking down barriers, be the political or religious or other, and bringing people together.

 

A more recent game between the 2 countries, in 2007 had a similar outcome. Ireland were playing their games in Croke Park, while Landsdowne was been remodelled, and England came over to play a match.

 

There was a lot of stories in the papers leading up to the game, and a lot of worry about what might transpire, given the history (the last time the English were in Croker in force was ‘Bloody Sunday’. Would there be Republican retaliatory action? etc). All that happened was another standing ovation.

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